Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 9

Lloyd Cole – ‘Night Sweats’ from ‘Guesswork’ LP

Since our 2013 reawakening to the excellence of Lloyd Cole records post-1985 it has been a fairly nailed on certainty that any new album would be welcomed with open arms; a table marked ‘Reserved’ in the Unpopular Advent series all but guaranteed. No surprise then to see ‘Guesswork’ slotting neatly into our daily episodes of reflective navel-gazing.

What is clearly a surprise to many is Mr Cole’s preference for predominantly electronic/keyboard/sequencing instrumentation on ‘Guesswork’, something that we understand many long-term ‘fans’ have voiced distaste at. It reminds us somewhat of the confusion caused when Everything But The Girl ‘went Disco’, but like that particular reference point it is something that we have found to be an unqualified success. This isn’t to say that ‘Guesswork’ is in any way an up-tempo record designed for the dancefloor, and one would certainly struggle to consider Lloyd Cole ever ‘going Disco’, but ‘Guesswork’ is a musical tangent that, whilst being stylistically audibly different to anything he’s done for a while nevertheless retains a spirit that is ineffably Cole. Perhaps it is in the overall pace of the record, which is almost uniformly downbeat and somewhat forlorn. Perhaps it is in the prose that treads the fine line between profound and excruciatingly purple (there is something in the lines about missiles, windows and a mother and child that inhabit the epic seven minute minute ‘Violins’ that feels painfully sixth form, to these ears at least). Perhaps too it is in the delivery of those lines, so laconic and world weary, so recognisably Lloyd, ready and willing to be heartbroken.

Picking out highlights feels almost insolent in a record where the flow feels so important. Each piece feels mutually supportive of the next and to the previous. Yet we find ourselves returning more often than not to ‘Night Sweats’, perhaps because it is the number that bristles most cussedly and yet also simultaneously soothes the brow with the balm of tenderness. Then again perhaps too we love it most simply for the audacity of writing and delivering a line where Cole admits he is “thinking about rhyming ‘righteous’ with ‘might just’” and then immediately follows it with just that.

It is unfortunate that the song blips into life in an awkward manner with a synth refrain that rather recalls’ Aneka’s ’Japanese Boy’ (we admit that might just be a peculiarly Unpopular nervous tick) but it is certainly the number on ‘Guessworks’ where any guitar obsessives might find a sliver of relief, for there are Fender squalls (one assumes they are Fender generated but not being a guitar aficionado I would not really know for sure) blowing in to unsettle those blips and bleeps before we surf out on waves of (synth?) strings and into ‘Violins’. There are moments of amusingly blunt (one assumes) self-critique (who amongst us can claim to have not self-deprecatingly accused ourselves of being “a complicated motherfucker” at some point in our lives?), and the song certainly cuts to the quick with statements about declining notions of moderation. Yet it is the counterpoint to all this that really makes ‘Night Sweats’ so compelling. It is the simple thought that there is someone to calm us in those moments of doubt, in those episodes of extreme anxiety. That there is someone to share our lives with.

Importantly, and this again may be a peculiarly Unpopular reading of the text, this someone may indeed be ourselves. That part of our self that we accused of being the “complicated motherfucker” that yet also consoles us and talks us down and around. We hold ourselves close and we might just make it to the morning.

Righteous indeed.

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